Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Kitchen Reader - Julie & Julia

This month, The Kitchen Reader group is reviewing Julie & Julia - 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment (Penguin) by Julie Powell.

I had read this book earlier this year, but needed to re-read it to remind myself of the finer details. This book has become the flavour of the month because of the movie based on it, but I am yet to see the movie. For the purposes of this review, that is a good thing, because my comments are not influenced by the movie.

This book evolved from Julie Powell's blog, The Julie/Julia Project. Julie's blog chronicled her progress in making every recipe in the American classic cookbook, Mastering The Art of French Cooking ("MtAoFC") by Julia Child, in a 12 month period. The Julie/Julia Project commenced when Julie's husband Eric suggested that she attend culinary school as a way to escape the rut that she felt trapped in with her life as a secretary living in the outer boroughs of New York. Julie countered Eric with the fateful statement that, if she wanted to learn to cook, she'd just cook her way through MtAoFC (which she had snaffled from her Mom's house in the spring on the hunch that she'd found something important). Rather than being dissuaded, Eric suggested that Julie should do just that and write a blog about it - and so the Julie/Julia Project was born.

Julie & Julia chronicles, not only Julie's progress through MtAoFC, but also her interactions with family, friends and total strangers during the project and the ups and downs of her life. We are offered a "fly on the wall" perspective as Julie conquers her fear and loathing of eggs, then moves on to challenges such as tracking down and extracting bone marrow, making various types of aspic, cooking live lobsters and boning a duck. There are both triumphs and failures, not to mention Julie's incidental battles with a couch, the plumbing in the couple's apartment and an unintended science experiment under the dish rack.

Interspersed with Julie's story are reconstructed snippets from Julia Child's life with her husband Paul. Julia's story gives me hope because it wasn't until she was around my age that she began to cook, and discovered a whole new life for herself.

The contemporary timeframe in which Julie & Julia is set is readily apparent through, among other things, its pop culture references (Julie quotes Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, and is an avid Buffy fan), and the discussion of 9/11 (Julie worked for a government department that dealt with the families of victims of the tragedy as part of their work in planning the redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site).

Through the Julie/Julia Project, Julie feels transformed, and indeed, her life does change from that of an anonymous suburban secretary to an author with a presence in cyberspace, on television and in print. Julie concludes that, rather than using MtAoFC to learn to cook French food, she was really "learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility". If both Julie and Julia discovered themselves and their passions through these recipes, then MtAoFC has much to recommend it.

Overall, I enjoyed Julie & Julia, although Julie's anecdotes were sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying (perhaps like all of us). I was fascinated by the incredibly gross things that Julie sometimes had to do for the various recipes and the lengths required to track down certain ingredients (who would have thought that sugar cubes would be difficult to find?). As a food blogger, I was also interested in Julie's interactions with her blog readers and what motivated her to blog. You can check out the views of the other Kitchen Readers on Julie & Julia by visiting the Kitchen Reader blogroll.

The final word goes to Julia Child:

Bon appetit!


Anonymous said...

What a nice review! I forgot about the bone marrow part.

I don't think you should hesitate to see the movie; I enjoyed it a lot and became very interested in Julia Child after seeing it. (And I'm reading next month's book and loving it!).

Heather said...

i totally want to read this! i loved the movie!

Cakelaw said...

Thanks Jill. I remembered this and that, but really did need the re-read to do the review. I will take your advice and see the movie when it comes out here.

Hi Heather, It is a fun read. I am in to see the movie when it finally comes out here.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I haven't read the book yet so thanks for the review. I'm intrigued now-what were the gross things she had to do? I guess I'd better read the book! :P

Jennifer said...

Great review! You really nailed it!

I had forgotten all about the marrow...she really did have some trials! But I was so happy for her in the end when she as successful in her completion of the project!

Peabody said...

She was dedicated in doing it authentic. To track down some of those items she needed for the recipes was definitely above and beyond.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Lorraine, I'll save the surprise for you. She really did have to doi some amazing things to make the recipes which perhaps were commonplace when Julia wrote MtAoFC, but are not now.

Thanks Jennifer. Absolutely it was great that she stuck to it and saw it through.

Hi Peabody, agreed! There are some things where I think I would have whimped out on (like the lobsters - I probably would have decided to buy ones that someone else had killed.)

Karen said...

I know I would never agree to something like this purely on the basis of having to track down the unusual and difficult to find ingredients. Possibly living in New York makes a difference?

Anonymous said...

I started reading the book but was distracted by the twilight series. Time to get back to the book. Thanks for the review.

p/s Thanks for your gift (the little cookie cutters are so cute!!) I am gonig to make some nice cookies out of it and make a blog post after my QLD holiday. Thanks!!!

Tammy said...

I read this book about three years ago and enjoyed it. i am looking forward to the movie but I dont think it comes out here until later this month

Anita said...

Great review - I'm actually getting quite excited to watch the movie soon.

adele said...

I didn't like the book enough to buy it for my bookshelf (borrowed it from a friend), but I thought it was an enjoyable read. The author is an alum of my college, too. :)

Food.Baby said...

Nice review. Hadn't heard of the Kitchen Readers before. I've got the book on hold at the library and now I'm looking forward to reading it even more!

SilverMoon Dragon said...

I really liked reading this book, but I'm not too sure about a movie version.

I have an award for you over at my blog too.

Cathy said...

What a great review! I started, but did not finish, the book. Loved the movie. I definitely think the Julie story is interesting for both serious and casual bloggers and foodies. It's hard not to relate to some of it!

Cakelaw said...

Hi Karen, Perhpas; I also think that she had become so determined to carry out this project that she was preparfed to go to great lenths to get there.

Hi Ellie, I was obsessed by the Twilight books last Christmas - I went out of my way to track them down and paid top dollar because I just had to read them. Now they are everywhere! Glad you like the cookie cutters and can't wait to see what you come up with.

Hi Tammy, It comes out here on Thursday - and I am there.

Hi Anita, Likewise! I am particularly interested in Meryl Streep's prtrayal of Julia Child, as we have not grown up with Julia's cooking shows and I am curious to get a feel for what she was like.

Hi Adele, I picked up my copy before I even knew there was going to be a movie at the Sunday book market at Fed Square in Melbourne for a bargain basement price, and used to read it on the tram going home. 'Tis a small world that Julie is an alumnus of your college.

Hi Susan, hope you enjoy it! And the movie is out Thursday.

Hi SilverMoon Dragon, I enjoyed the book, and have decided that I will see the movie as well, mainly to see Julia Child brought to life. Thanks for the award!!

Hi Cathy, agreed! I would have been a little weirded out if I had a reader like Chris.